BOSSIER PARISH, LA (KSLA) - Hundreds showed up for a rally Thursday afternoon in support of Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington's refusal to remove religion from the youth programs sponsored by the Bossier Sheriff's Office.
The "In God We Trust" rally began at 1 p.m. at the Bossier Sheriff's Office Viking Drive Substation. At least 500 people showed up to show their support.
Louisiana State Representative Jeff Thompson and U.S. Congressman John Fleming were in attendance, as well as a representative from U.S. Senator David Vitter's office.
Governor Bobby Jindal also made an appearance late in the afternoon and spoke to the crowd, as did Lee Greenwood, who is in town for a performance at Margaritaville tonight.
Attendees were invited to sign a pledge showing support for the "In God We Trust Campaign," and American flags will be available for those who wish to show their patriotism.
The Bossier Sheriff's Young Marines posted colors, led the Pledge of Allegiance and recited the Young Marine Obligation. Windie Hendrix, accomplished vocalist and recording artist, sang the National Anthem and "God Bless America."
At issue is the withholding of $15,000 in federal grant money by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, after an audit of the Young Marines program noted the use of voluntary prayer and inclusion of God in the program's oath.
"We're not promoting any specific religion," says Sheriff Whittington. "This is just voluntary prayer, mention of God. How offensive and bad can that be?"
Whittington has refused to sign a letter to the Department of Justice confirming the removal of religious activities from the program. "When something is not right and you know it's not right and you keep bowing down, nothing is ever going to change," says Whittington.
Following the DOJ's withholding of $15,000 in grant money for the Young Marines program, Whittington also voluntarily declined to accept another $15,000 for Youth Diversion Program, which is similar to the Young Marines and also includes the mention of God and voluntary prayer.
Instead, he sent a letter to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, the state's attorney general and local and congressional representatives asking for their attention to what he calls an "appalling situation where someone at the Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights, in Washington D.C. could, would and did go to great lengths to prevent even the mere mention of God in any way to the youth in these programs."
Sen. Barrow Peacock was among the first to take action, proposing a resolution asking the state's congressional representatives to look into the matter. "I think it's a shame that our federal government basically has strings attached to federal funding when its our first amendment right to have freedom of religion in our country." That resolution passed unanimously the day before the Louisiana legislative session ended.
Sen. David Vitter says he will review the issue. "It is deplorable that the administration is discriminating against this laudable program, but unfortunately it's not surprising. I'll definitely be looking into this," Vitter says.
For now, Bossier Sheriff's Office will pay for the two programs. Spokesperson Lt. Bill Davis says public donations have been pouring in, and a special fund has been set up. So far, $2,500 has been collected.
While Lt. Davis has emphasized that the Bossier Sheriff's Office doesn't solicit funds from the public, he says Sheriff Whittington expresses his gratitude and will accept public support.
Those wishing to donate can contact the Bossier Sheriff's Office at 318-965-3411 or write to Bossier Sheriff's Office, ATTN: Young Marines/Youth Diversion, P.O. Box 850, Benton, LA 71006.